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Gov. Whitmer: 'Trust isn't the problem, the problem is the virus that no one can see'

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke with Political Reporter Mikenzie Frost on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 about the Stay Home, Stay Safe order, opening up parts of the economy, unemployment and increasing testing.{ }
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke with Political Reporter Mikenzie Frost on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 about the Stay Home, Stay Safe order, opening up parts of the economy, unemployment and increasing testing.
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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has unveiled her plan to re-start sectors of the economy, using data and collaboration of input from the business and health care industries through her MI Safe Start plan and despite calls from the Republican-controlled Legislature, she said she’s not in a rush to get people back on the job if it means causing a second wave of COVID-19.

Tuesday, the GOP-controlled Senate passed symbolic resolutions, formally asking the Democratic governor to allow elective medical procedures and other low-risk industries to welcome workers back to the job.

“Michiganders can and should be trusted to return to work safely, in our hospitals and health care facilities, which is their area of expertise,” Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, said during session Tuesday.

When asked about the resolutions, which do not carry any authority, Whitmer said lawmakers, especially the legislative leaders, are clear that the next wave of economic re-engagement will include construction.

“I think trust is not the problem here, the problem is the virus that no one can see. The problem is the virus that can show up as a fever for one person in a family and be fatal for another member. This isn’t a question of trust,” Whtimer said. “So, I’m not quite sure today’s action changes anything.”

When looking at when more details will be rolled out from her administration, the governor said soon and added that the state loosened some restrictions on Friday, and she wants to see how the number of COVID-19 new cases respond.

“We’ll be sharing a lot more information. But, this group of business leaders and this group of public health and health care leaders have come together to give me counsel [on] how do we bring risk down,” Whitmer said “Through protocols and PPE and building things out in the work place to keep workers and the public safe.”

To keep people safe, Whitmer also said the state needs to increase the number of testing abilities.

I am eager as everyone to continue turning that dial and safely re-engage but I know we have to be really smart about it and do this incrementally. - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

New analysis from Harvard indicates Michigan is about 15,000 tests a day below what’s recommended to fully engage the economy. She said she wants the state to test 1%-2% of the state’s population a month, but said Michigan needs more supplies.

“Right now, we’re not hitting our top capacity because we don’t have all the materials because of the supply chain. We’ve got more work to do and that’s why as we are dialing up,” she said.

As more Michiganders get back to work, she said the COVID-19 numbers will be monitored and warned if the trend reverses, restrictions will be reinstated.

“As hard as this moment is. As isolated as people feel, I know we do not want to have to go back to a stay home order in the fall,” she said.

With talk of people going back to work, the issue with the state’s unemployment insurance system surfaces. The website has crashed, and people have not been able to submit claims – online or via phone – for weeks.

As of Monday, 86% of Michiganders have gotten benefits from the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency. For the other 14% however, it’s frustrating. Whitmer said keeping perspective in mind is “cold comfort” for those without assistance.

The governor asked lawmakers for a 28-day extension of the state of emergency declaration and emergency powers, which is set to expire just after midnight on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Republican leaders in Lansing have called for a shorter extension, arguing 28-days may not be necessary. The emergency powers should not be confused with the Stay Home, Stay Safe order which was extended through May 15.

The Whitmer Administration has argued the governor does not need legislative approval to extend emergency powers; noting however two separate laws in Michigan that offer different protections to front-line workers, like those in the healthcare industry.

In times of emergency, governors have the authority to take unilateral steps to protect public health, like issuing the stay-at-home order. One law, from 1976, requires approval from lawmakers to extend that emergency power beyond 28 days. Another law, from 1945, does not.

"The emergency powers that I have as governor do not depend on an extension from the Legislature," Whitmer said Monday. "But the protections for our healthcare workers do.”

The debate has surely set up a partisan battle in Lansing this week, with action expected Wednesday or Thursday in the chambers of the Capitol. When asked how long she anticipates the state of emergency to last in Michigan, Whitmer said she didn’t know, noting it will depend on the number of new COVID-19 cases.

“If Michiganders keep doing what I know we’re capable of which is doing everything to protect ourselves, families and co-workers, we could be re-engaged in the coming weeks and months and not have another outbreak of COVID-19 and not have to be in this state of emergency,” Whitmer said. “If we continue to have hot-spots, it’s important that we stay in the emergency.”

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